July 24, 2019 —
Strategy, Evolution, and War: From Apes to Artificial Intelligence
By Kenneth Payne
Georgetown University Press, 2018
269 pp. $32.95
Dr. Ryan Shaffer is a historian who researches terrorism and political violence.
One of the major issues facing the future of technology and defense is how artificial intelligence will reshape military strategy. Though artificial intelligence is not a new concept, advances in technology are rapidly expanding artificial intelligence’s potential capabilities. Exploring prospects for the future of war and strategy, Kenneth Payne examines the development of military strategy with two revolutions he identifies as early human cognitive transformation from 100,000 years ago, and the present changes in cognition from artificial intelligence. Payne concludes that strategy will be transformed in the future because machines are going to make key decisions for war without human cognition. Describing how strategy is a psychological activity shaped by human biology and development, he admits the speculative nature of his argument and notes that it draws from other authors on evolutionary psychology. Payne warns that one significant change for military strategy caused by artificial intelligence is that machines will make decisions based on principles that are not exclusively human.
In the first of the book’s three parts, Payne explores human strategy’s origins in evolutionary history. He describes how human evolution has a significant role in understanding strategic interests, such as the need to belong to a group rather than just to dominate physically. Warfare is a significant part of human evolution, and thus we have developed psychologically for the challenge. As for behaviors imbedded in human psychology, Payne explains conscious and unconscious biases and notes that decisionmaking processes are not always rational because emotion shapes strategies, which are justified afterward.
In the second part, Payne looks at culture’s relationship with war and technology to understand the effects they have on human strategic behavior. Discussing case studies from ancient Greece with attention to the hoplite panoply (a weapons system of infantrymen with body armor, shields, and spears), Payne concludes that strategy maintains a deep-seated psychological basis throughout history, across countries and cultures. Even with revolutionary technological advances from the Napoleonic to the nuclear eras, Payne also finds that technology does not alter strategy’s innate psychological foundation.
The final part focuses on artificial intelligence’s potential influence on military strategy. Payne explores what is feasible with tactical artificial intelligence, citing examples such as combat flight simulators and machine learning, and argues that artificial intelligence will shift the balance in conflict to favor the attacker and accelerate the initial steps to war. He believes these changes will affect strategic thinking by reshaping attitudes about risk and leaving decisionmakers removed from some decisions. Looking to the future, Payne offers three aspects of a hypothetical artificial general intelligence—a more powerful and advanced artificial intelligence than what is possible now—and argues that military strategy will change as machines become more flexible and autonomous. In particular, issues of friction and uncertainty will continue to be part of human conflict, but machines acquire increasingly higher decision roles without human cognition.
Payne concludes the book by putting artificial intelligence into broad historical context with the advent of the written word, which altered the psychological basis of strategy. Because artificial intelligence is not just information-processing technology but also decisionmaking technology, advances in artificial intelligence will mark a significant departure for strategy as decisions are made without human motivations. Payne recommends that one way to protect against artificial intelligence making decisions devoid of human goals is to inject it with biological intelligences wherein a human–artificial intelligence hybrid would offer human motivations and heuristics.
Although Strategy, Evolution, and War is highly speculative, this book provides valuable insights about the trajectory of military strategy shaped by artificial intelligence. Payne is upfront about the book’s limitations, including the notional aspects of his argument, the broad themes, and the oversimplification of the complex evolutionary processes. Indeed, readers wanting more empirical research and detailed scientific discussion will be disappointed. Payne’s theories raise important questions about the future of artificial intelligence and strategy in broad terms, but they sometimes neglect ethical issues. Nonetheless, even if aspects of Payne’s argument are hypothetical, his book offers valuable ideas about how artificial intelligence could change military strategy in the future. JFQ